This week on the Awards Show Show, Vulture's Kyle Buchanan and KPCC's John Horn welcome the Daily Beast's Jen Yamato to discuss the topic on everyone's mind: Donald Trump! Specifically, how did Trump's unexpected election shake up this year's Oscars race? Will voters warm to the social messages in movies like Loving, Moonlight, and Arrival, or will they flock to escapist fare like La La Land? And are bleak dramas like Manchester by the Sea dead in the water?
An excerpt from the conversation follows; listen to the episode below, and subscribe to the Awards Show Show on iTunes.
Kyle Buchanan: As the dust settles, a lot of people felt, How do we cover Hollywood? There was so much real-world shit to dig into that everything else seemed unimportant. And then, with a vengeance, I think people have seized upon the movies as not just as a cathartic thing to escape into for a little while, but a real way to grapple with what's going on. Arrival is a good example. Arrival is a movie that I'd been seeing solid reactions to since it debuted in the fall film festivals, but it had been underrated by the Oscars pundits. And then it came out post-Trump, and it has this message about global cooperation that is really resonating in a real way, and I think that it actually boosts that movie's chances. It's an interesting thing to parse a film like that, post-Trump. As Jen wrote earlier this week, movies are unwieldy beasts; they take years to put together. So it's very interesting when one just happens to coincide with something that's going on in the Zeitgeist.
John Horn: A couple of movies, and I would put Arrival on this list, are more topical this week than they were a few weeks ago. I'd put Loving in that category, I would absolutely put Moonlight in that category, I'd put Jackie in that category, I'd put Sully in that category. The narrative around them has changed fundamentally.
Jen Yamato: The feeling that I've gotten this week talking to people about the movies, they know they still need to see movies like Moonlight, but there's a desire for escapism, which is why I feel like movies like La La Land will have a surge. I feel like they need some sort of respite from caring.
JH: This is the "life is just a bowl of cherries" argument, people want to put their troubles behind?
KB: That is the primary reason most people go to movies. The Oscars don't always necessarily coincide with that, but it's a definite thing. That's a question that we're all going to have this Oscars season: What will win out? Is it going to be this notion of escapism, or is it going to be the idea that the Academy, now more than ever, might want to send a message with what they pick?
JH: Take a movie like Manchester by the Sea. Incredibly well-made, beautifully acted, but a downer movie. If you're talking to a friend and saying "What should I go see?" and everyone's feeling on edge, is that a movie you're recommending to a friend? It's not a movie I'm recommending to my friends, because it's not where people I know want to go. They don't want to feel sad anymore.
KB: I'm curious about how this affects La La Land, which, in the last few weeks, was the front runner. I talked to an Oscars pundit earlier this week — who is admittedly not high on La La Land to begin with — who thought that this torpedoes La La Land's chances. He just thinks it's cotton candy now. People will want something more significant.
JY: Honestly, I've cried a lot at the movies this season. La La Land definitely destroyed me. So did Moonlight, for very different reasons. And while I think people are more mindful towards rewarding a film like Moonlight — which I do think is the best film of the year — I feel like the Academy doesn't necessarily care enough to put that into action en masse.
JH: Historically, I agree. But the Academy today? There are a lot of new people in the Academy, a lot of younger people. The Academy of old hasn't gone away, but it has changed. And with that change, you might be more receptive to a movie that's going to get you to think about the world.